The Bealtaine Festival has roots in 27 counties with 652 organisers hosting over 3000 events. Last year, over 115,000 people took part in all kinds of arts activities from Dawn Chorus’s of singing choirs on beaches to theatre and film tours in arts centres nationwide.
2012 was European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations so we particularly welcomed projects that brought young and old participants/organisers together to explore our festival theme ‘What kind of old do you want to be’?
The Dawn Chorus began as a single event in Donegal as part of Bealtaine angrown each year. In 2012, there were 24 Dawn Choruses around Ireland including new events in Inisteoige in Kilkenny, Dunmore East in Waterford and Granard in Longford. Dawn Chorus works in partnership with Active Retirement Ireland and the Association of Irish Choirs, who host singing workshops and rehearsals culminating in a concert held at a scenic setting on the last Sunday in May. Retention for groups taking part is high with almost all groups from previous years repeating the experience. Many groups are deepening their aspirations; for example, Carlow Active Retirement Association obtained an Arts Council grant to run an event that grew from the Dawn Chorus. 2012 also saw the Royal Irish Academy of Music producing a set of vocal warm up videos for Dawn Chorus.
Every year Bealtaine prioritises a specific segment of its older audience to engage with artistic work. In May 2012, Age & Opportunity brought together a group of partners including the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland to pilot an innovative action research project called Azure. Azure is about creating cultural opportunities for people with dementia and those that care for them. Advised by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Azure project is about welcoming people back into our galleries and art spaces in a way that addresses and facilitates their changing needs. 'Azure' ran pilot arts sessions in the Butler in May and is currently working on developing a sustainable long-term model during the remainder of the year.
In 2011 Bealtaine’s partnership with the Crafts Council of Ireland, as part of Ireland’s Year of Craft 2011, led to a new relationship with the Office of Public Works. In 2012, Bealtaine deepened that relationship by collaborating on a project which involved an exploration of ‘slow craft’ at Rathfarnham Castle. Artists joined with local older people to produce, on an incremental basis, artwork that was inspired by the OPW property and by the lives of the surrounding community. Participants drew on the location, contents and archives as a mine for memories and stories. These were then translated into an exhibition which included screenprinting and works with paper. Bealtaine introduced leading UK-based crafts development organisation Craftspace to the project. Craftspace has over 20 years experience pushing boundaries and perceptions of crafts practice, presentation and learning and exploring crafts in diverse social and cultural settings.
Watch the video documenting the 'Wandering methods' project
As I Rowed Out
Building on the festival’s success with two previous projects with the National Library of Ireland and artists Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert, Bealtaine and the Irish Traditional Music Archive again partnered with them on ‘As I Roved Out’. The project brought together older traditional singers from around the country to research and develop new songs based on the theme of roving and travelling. The process even included rambling itself with a walking and writing weekend and singing and peer critique sessions. Documented throughout on a project website, a concert took place in May at the National Library which premiered the new compositions. The works were also sung at the Góilín Traditional Singing Club in Dublin.
In 2011, Bealtaine identified the development of a touring strand as key to spreading existing works of quality and as a means of tackling growing financial and resource constraints. Having identified 21 potential touring partners around the country, Bealtaine instigated a tour of two theatre performances and the photographic exhibition ‘Ink’. Building on the success of this tour, in 2012 Bealtaine toured two UK award-winning shows: ‘Kin’, a theatre performance exploring the changing relationships between children and their ageing parents, and ‘Translunar Paradise’, a mime piece about loving and letting go, from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011.
‘Ink’ is an exhibition which explores why people tattoo their bodies and looks at whether the meaning of tattoos change as people grow older. Originally commissioned by Bealtaine in 2010, it has now evolved and grown with photographer Aidan Kelly hosting a mobile photographic studio taking shots of older people and their tattoos which becomes part of the touring show. In 2012, Ink toured to axis, Ballymun and the Old Markethouse Arts Centre in Dungarvan.
Watch a video from the 2010 exhibition opening
Bealtaine Film Tour
access>CINEMA and the Irish Film Institute increased the diversity of the Bealtaine Film Tour offering by presenting three different films to cinema audiences around the country. This year’s films were: ‘My House in Umbria’, based on a novella by William Trevor; ‘Last Chance Harvey’ with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson finding love in later life; and the classic musical ‘An American in Paris’, Vincente Minnelli’s mix of Gershwin, ballet and the visual arts. The tour was, once again, supported by Seven Seas Active 55.
Responding to the need for a network of older people wishing to share an experience of the arts, Bealtaine piloted a project in 2011 in Dublin and Cork, offering support to older people to make it easier to attend cultural experiences and activities. Every year, Bealtaine succeeds in involving tens of thousands of people in arts activities but we know from experience that some older people feel there are many barriers still to their engagement in the arts. One issue is the absence of ‘someone to go with’, the loss of a partner, unfamiliarity with practicalities for attendance or transport. Bord Gáis Foundation became the key sponsor for the programme, funding a project manager who is based at Age & Opportunity. So far, the programme has over 200 people signed up with 21 cultural organisations as partners. Bord Gáis Foundation has committed a further year’s sponsorship of the programme in 2012 specifically for consolidation of its work in Dublin and Cork and it has allowed for exploration of how Cultural Companions can spread to new geographical areas. An advisory panel has been set up, partners in four new geographical areas have been identified and it is expected that a toolkit and website will be ready by year’s end. Bord Gáis Foundation received an Allianz Business to Arts award this year in recognition of their arts sponsorship for projects like Cultural Companions. Bealtaine Ambassador Paddy Moloney is delighted to be associated specifically as an advocate for the project.
Take a look at our programme below to find out more about what happended in May 2012
Bealtaine Festival 2012 Programme
You can also watch videos documenting our 2012 projects here
Mary Russell's Blog
During the Bealtaine 2012 Mary Russell, one of Ireland's great journalists, kept a blog where she wrote about some of the festival's events. Read some of her posts here